Paul Routledge

What is the explanation for Alastair Campbell's persistent bad temper? As best I understand these things, he is engaged in a vicious battle with Peter Mandelson, the undisgraced Northern Ireland Secretary, for influence over the PM. Mandy is obscenely jealous that Ali's house-move to the inner recesses of No 10 means that he will assume control of the general election campaign, which, as we all know, is the Ulster dog-lover's private property.

Perhaps Mandy should be worrying more about his own constituency, where Labour lost control in the May elections. I am stoutly resisting appeals to stand as Real Labour in Hartlepool. However, I hear that Ray Mallon, the "zero tolerance" cop from over the Tees in Middlesbrough, may have no such inhibitions.

Most years at the summer Yorkshire Festival in Wortley Hall, the workers' stately home near Wakefield, John Prescott makes a speech. This year, he found a little local difficulty. The Yorkshire Socialist Choir refused to make way for him, chanting "We're not moving for Two Jags!" They eventually agreed to share the platform, and Prezza made one of his 900cc jokes about his embarrassment.

The summer party season is upon us again. I spotted a prominent Scottish MP weaving his way from the Parliamentary Beer Club bash with a bottle in each back pocket. Traditional bottles in a modern setting. The Unison party attracted an unusually large turnout of ministers and MPs, there, I suspect, to sample Unison's own-label red wine from Hawkes' Bay, New Zealand. It weighs in at 13.5 per cent alcohol. Claret socialism has finally triumphed.

Intelligence from Millbank. The word is that it's too close to the general election to sack Labour's general secretary, Margaret McDonagh, the scapegoat for the local and London election disasters. So she is simply being sidelined. There is even talk of bringing back Lord (Tom) Sawyer, her predecessor. But is there time for the negotiations that such a move would entail? When he took the job from Larry Whitty at Blair's invitation, Sawyer insisted on a deal for his eventual severance. This was after he had been given a big pay-off from his former union, Nupe, which represents low-paid workers.

The grandfather of the nation is a disappointed man. I refer to Tony Booth, the actor and father-in-law of the great helmsman. He was in Downing Street shortly before the birth of baby Leo, offering his services as a babysitter, no doubt, but also taking the opportunity to ask: "What the f*** is going on with new Labour?" The chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, appeared at Blair's elbow. "The red boxes, Prime Minister, the red boxes," he urged. "In a minute, in a minute," said Blair. "No, Prime Minister," said Powell, with an anxious eye on smouldering Mount Liverpool. "Now!" The most powerful man in Britain trotted off obediently.

Andrew Robathan, the Tory brute who succeeded Nigel Lawson in Blaby, has a brass neck. He introduced a ten-minute rule bill on the conduct of ministers the other day. But, MPs ask, what about his own conduct in the members' dining room? During Euro 2000, the ex-military Robathan ordered staff to turn off the television, thus spoiling the fun for both MPs and catering staff. Watch that man. He is Tebbit without Norman's charm.

A gem from Kay Halle's recently reissued book The Irrepressible Churchill. During the Casablanca conference, a US security officer was deputed to ask the prime minister not to visit the kasbah in case he picked up something nasty and gave it to Roosevelt. "Young man," growled the old warhorse, "I have no intention of visiting the kasbah. But if I had, it would not be for the purpose you obviously have in mind. But if I were to visit the kasbah for that purpose, my relations with the president of the United States are not such that any disgrace so contracted would be passed on to him."

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 10 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Education, education, profit